Expecting the birth of their first child, a married couple was receiving prenatal care from a local obstetrician. Throughout the pregnancy, the fetal heart rate monitoring and other tests demonstrated that the baby was healthy, with a good fetal heart rate and positive fetal movement.
In the 40th week of the pregnancy, mom was admitted to the hospital because she felt reduced fetal movement. A non-stress test revealed that the baseline fetal heart rate was “non-reactive” which demonstrated fetal compromise and warranted immediate delivery of the infant; however, nothing was done in response to this testing.
Although fetal monitoring continued to demonstrate ominous signs, the obstetrician failed to take any action other than to order continuous monitoring. The obstetrician then inexplicably left the hospital premises, thereby leaving the unborn baby in a compromised condition demonstrating signs of fetal distress. Subsequently, a hospital nurse disconnected mom from the fetal monitor so that she could use the bathroom. The nursing staff failed to reconnect mom to the fetal monitor and instead, instructed mom that she was free to walk around the hospital unmonitored.
Thereafter, mom felt a leakage of fluid and was reconnected to the fetal monitor; however, the nurse was unable to locate a fetal heartbeat. The obstetrician was contacted and arrived at the hospital and performed a portable obstetric ultrasound which did not identify fetal cardiac activity. Soon after, a dead female infant was delivered via C-section weighing approximately 8 lbs. 12 oz.
In 2001, suit was brought against the obstetrician and the hospital in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. The case was tried for one week before a jury. Throughout the trial, although the autopsy findings were consistent with death due to anoxic injury, the defendants asserted that the baby’s death was instead caused by cardiomyopathy, a congenital heart defect where the heart loses its ability to pump blood and, in some instances, heart rhythm is disturbed, leading to irregular heartbeats, or arrhythmias.
After two days of deliberations, the jury found the obstetrician liable and awarded the plaintiffs a six-figure verdict. Prior to the jury’s verdict, the plaintiffs also reached a six-figure settlement with the hospital.